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Newborn Won’t Sleep Unless Held: Our Top Solutions for Exhausted Parents

Published by Chris Riley on May 28, 2023

For many new parents, the struggle is real when it comes to getting their precious little newborn to sleep. It’s not uncommon for a newborn to only fall asleep when held by a loving caregiver. But when laid down in a crib or bassinet, they suddenly wake up, leaving parents feeling helpless, exhausted, and baffled.

Newborn Won't Sleep Unless Held

So why won’t a newborn sleep unless held? It largely has to do with the infant’s transition into the outside world. Inside the womb, they experience warmth, comfort, and the gentle rocking motion as their mother goes about her daily activities. Once born, these little bundles of joy seek the same familiar sensations – and that’s where being held comes into play.

While frustrating, this behavior is completely normal and even expected during the first few months of life. Ultimately, the goal is to gradually help the baby feel comfortable and safe in their sleeping environment without needing constant physical contact. In this article, we’ll explore some practical tips and tricks to encourage your newborn to sleep soundly, even when they’re not in your arms.

Understanding the Cuddle Instinct

The cuddle instinct is a natural phenomenon for both parents and newborns. It’s important to understand this instinct, as it plays a crucial role in the bonding between the parent and child. In the early stages, your newborn’s desire to be held close is more than just a matter of comfort; it’s a means of survival.

Babies are born with a range of reflexes and behaviors designed to keep them in close contact with their caregivers. Some of these instincts include:

  • Rooting reflex: When a baby’s cheek is stroked, they’ll instinctively turn their head toward the source, searching for the breast to feed.
  • Moro reflex: This startle reflex causes a baby to throw out their arms and then bring arms back to their chest when they feel they’re falling or experiencing a sudden change in environment.
  • Gripping: Newborns have a strong grip, allowing them to hold onto things, especially their caregiver’s fingers.

The cuddle instinct isn’t solely for your baby’s benefit, though; parents also have a natural urge to hold and protect their newborns. Studies have shown that close physical contact can increase levels of oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” in both parents and their babies. This surge of oxytocin strengthens the bond and promotes feelings of love and attachment.

Oxytocin levels in parents and babiesEffects
Elevated oxytocin levels in both parents and babiesEases the baby’s transition from the womb to the outside world, helps regulate digestion, breathing, and temperature control
Increased oxytocin levels in parentsReduces stress, promotes bonding, helps in understanding the baby’s cues, and supports breastfeeding for mothers

So, it’s completely natural that your newborn won’t sleep unless held. Infants are biologically programmed to crave close contact, particularly when they’re feeling tired, hungry, or stressed. Nestled in your arms, they feel secure and reassured by your warmth and heartbeat.

However, if your baby refuses to sleep without being held for extended periods of time, it could become an issue. To encourage healthy sleep habits, you may want to try implementing some gentle sleep training methods, like:

  • Swaddling: Wrapping your baby snugly in a blanket can provide a sense of security and warmth similar to being held.
  • Introducing a lovey or comforting item: A soft, small blanket or stuffed animal can provide an additional sense of security for your baby while sleeping.
  • Gradual transition: Start by holding your baby close while in the crib or bassinet, and when they seem calmer, carefully transfer them to their sleep space with minimal disturbance.

Remember, balancing your baby’s need for physical contact with a structured sleep environment is key to fostering healthy sleep habits in the long run. But during the first few weeks, don’t hesitate to cherish those cuddle sessions, as they play a crucial part in bonding with your precious newborn.

How do I get my newborn to sleep without being held?

To help your newborn sleep without being held, try creating a comfortable sleep environment with a cozy crib, swaddling, and a soothing bedtime routine. Gradually transition from holding to placing your baby in the crib while they are drowsy but still awake.

Why won’t my newborn sleep without holding?

Newborns often seek the comfort and security of being held. They may associate being held with warmth, closeness, and feeling safe. It is a natural instinct for them. With time, patience, and consistent routines, you can gradually teach your baby to sleep independently.

Developing a Consistent Sleep Routine

Establishing a consistent sleep routine is crucial for helping your newborn sleep independently. We’ll discuss several strategies you can use to create an effective sleep routine for your baby. It’s important to be patient and consistent, as these methods may not produce immediate results.

Start early: The earlier you begin establishing a sleep routine, the better. Ideally, you should start implementing a routine when your baby is 6-8 weeks old. However, if your child is older, don’t worry – it’s never too late to start.

Create a sleep-friendly environment: A comfortable and quiet space encourages better sleep. Some elements of this environment include:

  • Dimmed lights or a nightlight
  • White noise machines or soft background music
  • Comfortable room temperature, typically around 68-72°F
  • A safe and cozy crib or bassinet

Develop a bedtime routine: A predictable sequence of events helps signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. You can customize the routine to your baby’s needs and preferences, but some common elements are:

  • A warm bath
  • A gentle massage
  • Soothing lullabies or stories
  • Swaddling or cuddling
  • Calm, quiet interactions

Implementing these activities consistently will help your baby associate them with sleep, making it easier for your newborn to eventually settle down independently.

Recognize sleep cues: Paying attention to signs that indicate your baby is tired is essential. These can include rubbing eyes, yawning, pulling at ears, or becoming increasingly fussy. By responding to these cues, you can put your baby to bed before they become overtired, which can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep independently.

Allow self-soothing: Encourage your baby to self-soothe by giving them the opportunity to fall asleep on their own. Put them down when they’re drowsy but still awake, allowing them to learn how to settle themselves. You can offer comfort if they become distressed, but it’s critical to maintain consistency and resist the temptation to immediately pick them up at the slightest whimper.

Be consistent: Consistency is the key to success in developing a sleep routine. Following the same bedtime routine, sleep environment, and sleep schedule every night will help establish the predictability necessary for your baby to sleep without needing to be held.

By implementing these strategies and maintaining consistency, you’ll set a strong foundation for a healthy sleep routine for your newborn. Patience and perseverance will be your allies in helping your baby learn to sleep independently.

What should I do if my newborn only sleeps when held?

If your newborn only sleeps when held, you can try various strategies to help them transition to sleeping independently. Implement a consistent sleep routine, swaddle your baby, use white noise or gentle music, and gradually introduce them to the crib while still awake but drowsy. Offering reassurance and comfort during the transition can also help.

Soothing Techniques for Sleepy Newborns

Cradling a newborn who won’t sleep can be challenging and tiring. We’ve compiled a few effective soothing techniques that’ll help your sleepy newborn transition to their own sleep space. Let’s explore these tips!

Swaddling wraps your baby snugly in a light blanket, replicating the familiar feeling of being in the womb. This sense of security can help the baby relax and sleep. To swaddle your baby, follow these steps:

  1. Lay a light blanket in a diamond shape, folding the top corner down.
  2. Place your baby on the blanket with shoulders aligned with the folded corner.
  3. Wrap one side of the blanket snugly across the baby, tucking it underneath.
  4. Fold the bottom corner up and over the baby’s feet, then tuck it under the folded corner.
  5. Wrap the final side of the blanket snugly across the baby and tuck it in.

White noise can also calm your little one by drowning out any sudden or distracting noises. Examples include:

  • Sound machines
  • Fans
  • Humidifiers
  • Vacuum cleaners in another room

Gentle motion can help soothe a fussy baby. Consider trying these soothing movements:

  • Rocking or swaying the baby in your arms
  • Using a baby swing or vibrating infant seat
  • Gently bouncing on a yoga ball while holding your baby

Babies also find comfort in skin-to-skin contact, as the warmth and familiar scent of a parent can promote a sense of security. This technique will work best when both you and your baby are calm and relaxed.

Creating a sleep-friendly environment can help signal to your baby that it’s time to rest. Here are some ideas to set up the perfect sleep space:

  • Dim the lights or use a soft nightlight
  • Maintain a comfortable room temperature
  • Choose soft and breathable crib sheets

Remember, it’s crucial to always place your baby on their back for sleep, to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Patience is key as you teach your little one to sleep independently. Our tips may take some time to show results, but they’ll help your baby feel more comfortable in their own sleep space. Give each suggestion a fair chance, and don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional if the problem persists or worsens. Together, we can help everyone get the rest they need.

Why does my baby wake up every time I put her down?

Babies have a startle reflex called the Moro reflex, which can cause them to wake up when they are put down. This reflex is often more pronounced during the first few months of life. Swaddling can help limit the startle reflex and provide a sense of security, allowing your baby to sleep more soundly when placed in the crib.

In Conclusion: Helping Your Newborn Sleep Independently

Helping your newborn sleep independently is a common concern for new parents. It takes time and patience to establish healthy sleep habits, but with the right approach, your baby will soon master the art of self-soothing. Here are a few strategies to help you along the journey.

Establish a consistent bedtime routine to signal your baby that it’s time for sleep. Incorporating key elements such as a warm bath, a soothing massage, or reading a book can help ease the transition to bedtime. Be consistent and stick to the routine every night.

Swaddling your newborn in a cozy, secure wrap can recreate the comfort of the womb, helping them adjust to sleeping independently. Many babies find it easier to drift off when swaddled, so give this a try when putting your baby down for the night.

Investing in a white noise machine or using calming lullabies can also help create a soothing sleep environment for your newborn. These comforting sounds can mask potential distractions and make it easier for your baby to drift off.

Encourage your baby to fall asleep independently by laying them down when they’re drowsy but still awake. By doing so, you’re teaching your baby to self-soothe, a skill they’ll need as they grow older.

Keep in mind that every baby is different, and what works for one might not work for another. Be patient as you try different methods and avoid getting discouraged or frustrated. With perseverance and practice, your newborn will soon develop the ability to sleep independently.

Remember, it’s important to consult with a pediatrician or sleep consultant if you’re unsure about the best approach. They can recommend techniques tailored to your baby’s needs and help ensure that you’re on the right track. Consistency, patience, and guidance from experts can make the process smoother and ultimately lead to a well-rested baby and family.

References, Studies and Sources

https://www.happiestbaby.com/blogs/baby/my-baby-only-sleeps-on-my-body

https://www.momjunction.com/articles/newborn-wont-sleep-unless-held-what-to-do_00793760/

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/A-Parents-Guide-to-Safe-Sleep.aspx

https://www.zerotothree.org/resource/my-newborn-only-naps-if-hes-being-held/

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